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Devil in Disguise: Chapter 14


A stunned silence followed Merritt’s announcement. Then—

“Have you lost your mind?” Luke demanded. “You’ve only known him for three days!”

“It was long enough,” Merritt said. “He spent last night here. I’ve been compromised, very compromised indeed. If he doesn’t marry me, I could be thrown out of British society, and possibly driven out of England altogether. If you don’t want me living in Prussia or Australia under an assumed name, you’ll support my engagement.” Which was overstating the case somewhat, but in these circumstances, she felt a little hyperbole was forgivable.

Dumbfounded, Luke rubbed the lower half of his face. “Before Keir MacRae arrived, everything was normal. Now there’s been stabbings, explosions, and debauchery, and my sensible older sister is engaged to a Scottish whisky distiller. What’s happened to you? You’re supposed to be level-headed!”

Merritt tried to sound dignified. “Just because one is usually level-headed doesn’t mean one is always level-headed.”

“You won’t be compromised if no one knows about it,” Luke said. “And God knows none of us are going to say anything.”

The duke intervened, his voice so dry one could have struck a match off it. “My boy, you’re missing the point. Your sister wants to be compromised.”

Ethan Ransom, who had been inching toward the stairs, ventured, “I don’t need to be part of this conversation. I’m going up to see my wife.”

Kingston motioned for him to leave with a graceful flick of his hand.

Luke was staring at Merritt with a deep frown. “I’m going to take you to Hampshire. The warehouse fire was a shock. You need rest and fresh air, and maybe a good long talk with Father—”

“The only place I’m going is with my fiancé,” Merritt said.

Uncomfortable color rose in her brother’s face. “Merritt . . . God knows I don’t blame you for wanting . . . companionship. But you don’t have to marry for it. Only a lunatic would decide to spend the rest of her life with a man she’s just met.”

“Not necessarily,” Kingston said mildly.

Luke sent him an aggravated glance. “Uncle Sebastian, you can’t approve of her marrying a stranger.”

“It depends on the stranger.” The duke glanced down at Merritt. “Apparently there’s something special about this one.”

“Yes,” Merritt said, relieved that he seemed to be on her side. “He’s . . .” But the words died in her throat as she noticed something she had missed until now.

Having known the duke for her entire life, Merritt had never thought about his looks. She was aware he was handsome, of course, but she’d never paid particular attention to his individual features or spent any time at all dwelling on them. To her he had always simply been Uncle Sebastian.

But in this moment, as she stared up at him, she was struck by the distinctive pale blue of his eyes, like a winter sky, like moonlight . . . like Keir’s.

Shaken, she stared up at this complex, powerful man, who was so familiar . . . and yet so full of mystery.

“Let me stay with him,” she whispered. “Take me with you.”

Those light, piercing eyes stared into hers, kindly but not without calculation. Appearing to come to a decision, Kingston said slowly, “I’ll send for Phoebe to stay with us at Heron’s Point. Her presence will satisfy the proprieties, and I daresay you’ll want to chat with her about . . . recent developments.”

“Thank you,” Merritt said, and let out an unsteady sigh of relief.

Their gazes held as they settled on an unspoken pact: When it came to the issue of Keir MacRae, Uncle Sebastian would be her ally, just as she would be his.

“I’d like a brief word with Dr. Gibson,” the duke commented, “before I leave to make arrangements.”

“I’ll go up with you,” Merritt said. She turned to Luke, who looked surly and exhausted. With a pang of affection, she went to him, stood on her toes, and kissed his cheek. “Will you stay in London to take care of Sterling Enterprises?”

Luke accepted the kiss but didn’t return it. “Do I have a choice?”

“Thank you. If there’s anything you need to ask, you know where I’ll be.”

“What I need is for you not to behave like a resident of the local madhouse,” he muttered. “Tell me, Merritt, if someone you knew were carrying on like this over a stranger—one of our sisters, God forbid—what would you say to her?”

At the moment, Merritt didn’t feel like justifying her actions to anyone, least of all a younger sibling. But during the past year, she and Luke had formed a working partnership and friendship that made their bond unique. She would tolerate more from him than from nearly anyone else in her life. “I would probably caution her that she was acting impulsively,” she admitted, “and advise her to rely on the counsel of those who love her.”

“All right, then. I’m counseling you to stay in London and let Ransom and Uncle Sebastian decide what to do with MacRae. Whatever it is you feel for him, it’s not real. It happened too fast.”

In her weariness and strain, Merritt’s temper had a lower flashpoint than usual. She could feel it beginning to ignite, but she grimly tamped it back down and managed a calm reply. “You may be right,” she said. “But someday, Luke . . . you’ll meet someone. And from one breath to the next, everything will change. You won’t care whether it makes sense. All you’ll know is that a stranger owns your every heartbeat.”

Luke’s mouth twisted. “God, I hope not.” He heaved a sigh. “I’m going home for a few hours of rest. Tomorrow’s going to be busy.”

Merritt felt a strong twinge of guilt, leaving him to manage the company on his own at the worst possible time. “I’m sorry for abandoning you in the middle of a crisis,” she said.

Luke looked down at her with a hint of reluctant amusement. “Don’t worry, sweetheart. I can handle this. If I can’t, I have no business running the company.”

After her brother had collected his hat and coat and departed, Merritt went upstairs with Kingston.

As they ascended the staircase, the duke remarked, “You handled that well. I doubt Phoebe would have been able to summon as much restraint in the face of a younger brother’s criticism.”

“Well, you see,” Merritt said ruefully, “Luke wasn’t wrong. I . . . I think I have gone a bit mad.”

The duke gave a soft huff of amusement. “I wouldn’t worry. If you can say you’ve gone mad, or at least allow for the possibility, you’re not.”

They reached the guest room, and Merritt tapped on the door before opening it cautiously. In the dim light shed by a small lamp, Keir lay on his side, eyes closed, while Garrett stood at the bedside and talked quietly to Ethan.

Upon seeing Merritt and Kingston, Garrett came to the doorway and curtsied. “Your Grace.”

“Dr. Gibson,” the duke said. “A pleasure to see you, as always.” His gaze went to the shadowed figure on the bed. “What is his condition?”

Garrett described Keir’s injuries succinctly, and added with a frown, “I understand the necessity of moving him, but I certainly wouldn’t recommend it. He’s in considerable pain, and he needs rest and quiet.”

“Can’t you give him something?” Merritt asked.

“Not while his breathing is so labored. Morphine tends to depress lung function.”

Kingston’s attention seemed riveted on the injured man. “I’d be obliged, Doctor, if you would make a list of what he’ll require on the trip down to Sussex. You’ll accompany us, of course.”

Garrett frowned and caught briefly at her lower lip with her teeth before replying. “I’m afraid I must remain here. I have surgeries scheduled, and also . . .”

Ethan came to his wife’s side and added, “My wife and I have an agreement that whenever one of us travels, the other will stay at home with the child. And I’ll be away from London, working on the investigation.”

“If you like,” Garrett told the duke, “I can recommend a colleague, Dr. Kent, who has a practice near Heron’s Point. He was trained according to Sir Joseph Lister’s methods, just as I was, and will provide first-rate care to Mr. MacRae.”

“Very well. I’d be obliged if you would contact him on our behalf. I want him waiting at the estate when we arrive.”

“I’ll wire him in the morning, Your Grace.”

The duke took one last glance at Keir’s sleeping form, his face inscrutable. But as he turned to leave, the mask of composure slipped to reveal a flash of anguished tenderness. Merritt blinked, and the expression vanished so quickly, she wondered if she’d imagined it.

Once they were out in the hallway, the duke told her, “You need pack only a few essentials. We’ll send for more in a day or two.”

“I should send a note to my family,” Merritt said, trying to collect her scattered thoughts.

“You can write one on the way and dispatch it from Heron’s Point.” With a wry quirk of his lips, he added, “I beg you to word it carefully. Despite my deep and abiding affection for your parents, I’d rather not be overrun by Marsdens for the time being.”

“Neither would I,” Merritt assured him. “Papa would ask a great many questions I have no wish to answer, and Mama . . . well, as you know, she’s as subtle as a marauding Viking.”

The duke laughed softly. “In the interest of self-preservation, I’ll withhold comment.”

The brief grin reminded Merritt of Keir, and nearly made her heart stop. “His expressions are so like yours,” she said impulsively.

Kingston followed the abrupt turn of thought without needing explanation. “Are they?” he asked, glancing over his shoulder in the direction of the guest room. He turned back to her with a faint, pensive smile, and headed to the staircase.


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